Formation and Reformation.
I was raised by liars. It should surprise no one that I became one of them. Both of my parents are educated and intelligent. And both of them assert more than they know. Manufacture narratives about themselves. And, I think, work very hard to deny certain central truths about themselves. Externally, anyway. I am of course not privy to private thoughts. But fabulous tales and bizarrely needless fabrications are part of both of their routine existences. Along with deep rationalizations.
I remember a time I was with my father. We went to a food pantry. My father was constantly out of money. Sometimes because he didn’t work. Sometimes because he drank or gambled. When we went to the food pantry, he told the person working there that he had five dependents. He was given an additional allotment. My father had zero dependents. I was about 10. I asked him to explain. He did. It was a tortured labyrinth. But it allowed him to claim five dependents without feeling like he was telling lies.
So I learned to rationalize. Deceive. Inflate and aggrandize. I made myself bigger than I was and smarter. More important. I made up stories I still cringe at, embarrassed for my adolescent self.
But the reason that I told these lies about myself, and to myself, was not simply that that’s why my role models did. It was because I was so ashamed of what I really was. I was, and am, terrified of being stupid. That was precisely my mother’s weapon of choice when I made mistakes as a child; “How could you be so stupid?” she would hiss. And so I learned that being stupid was the worst thing that a person could be. And that I had an inescapable propensity toward stupidity.
And so I lied. I always had to know everything first. I always had to be the expert. No one could teach me anything, because if I didn’t already know it, I was stupid. I treated my shame with lies. Eventually, I started treating my shame with alcohol as well. Alcohol was an excellent remediator of shame. As long as I stayed drunk, all the time.
Sobriety requires honesty. In the first place, it requires telling the truth. I lie reflexively sometimes. Without knowing why and with nothing to gain from it. It’s rarer now. But I continue to have to fight it. It’s not a struggle, exactly. Just an awareness I need to keep. But telling the truth is only the barest imprint on the surface of what is needed for sobriety.
Forged and formed in a furnace of lies, I needed to be reformed. I needed to build an entirely new image of myself. I needed to understand the truth of who I am inside. I still can’t write this without tears: I am not stupid.
I have done many things in my life, even in sobriety, of which I am, and deserve to be, ashamed. But I was born in a cauldron of shame which I had no stake in. No claim to. The core of the honesty, the blade-to-bone integrity required for my sobriety is to see that. To scour out the mildew there and say – say and believe – that this is not mine. I have been a receptacle for tragic shame that has been borne from generation to generation. And it is not mine.
I don’t blame my parents. Like most parents they did the best they knew how in the places where they were and they clearly succeeded with me: I am well and happy and productive. Every parent leaves every child with scars and bruises and bandages. Apes bringing up smaller apes in a jungle none of us really understand.
This is my time in my life. And to be useful and productive and content in my time in my life I need to be honest with myself in intimate ways. I am not perfect. I am not always honest. But I am better today that yesterday. The terrible thing of it is: I love my shame. Relinquishing it is painful, and difficult, and sad. There is mourning there. But it is necessary. So see myself as I am. As I was formed and as I am reformed.